House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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19. Committees of the Whole House

Conduct of Debate in a Committee of the Whole

Proceedings in a Committee of the Whole are governed by the Standing Orders as far as may be applicable and by long-established practice. [67]  While Members must be recognized by the Chairman before speaking or moving a motion, discussions are less formal; Members may occupy, speak and vote from places other than those regularly assigned to them, [68]  and they may be recognized to speak more than once to a question, [69]  although they may not share their speaking time. [70]  The Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition have unlimited time. [71]  Members have 20 minutes at a time to make speeches, to ask questions and to receive replies. [72]  The Chairman must apply the 20-minute limit to ensure the Minister or sponsor has an opportunity to answer a final question within the 20 minutes. As in the House, where all remarks are addressed to the Speaker, all remarks must be addressed to the Chairman. [73]  However, in practice, Members often address one another, ask questions and receive answers directly. [74]  In these exchanges, Members should nevertheless always refer to one another by the names of their ridings as is done in the House. [75] 

The same rules and practices that apply to motions in the House generally apply in a Committee of the Whole, except that motions do not require a seconder. [76]  The motions “that the Chair rise and report progress” [77]  and “that the Chairman leave the Chair” [78]  are unique to a Committee of the Whole and are decided without debate or amendment. Once proposed, motions may be withdrawn only by the mover and only with the unanimous consent of the Committee. [79]  When an amendment is moved, debate must proceed on the amendment until it is disposed of.


Under the Constitution Act, 1867, and the Standing Orders of the House, a quorum of 20 Members, including the Speaker, is required to “constitute a meeting of the House for the exercise of its powers”. [80]  Twenty Members is also the quorum for a Committee of the Whole. [81]  If a Member draws to the attention of the Chairman a lack of quorum in a Committee of the Whole, the Chairman counts the Members. [82]  If 20 Members are not present, the Chairman rises without seeking leave to report progress and sit again. The Speaker takes the Chair, [83]  the House is resumed, the Chairman reports the lack of a quorum and the Speaker counts the number of Members in the Chamber. If the Speaker finds a quorum, the Committee resumes its deliberations. [84]  If there is no quorum, the bells are rung until there is a quorum, at which time the Committee resumes its deliberations. If after 15 minutes the bells are still ringing, the Speaker adjourns the House until the next sitting day. [85]  Any proceedings which are brought to a close by a lack of quorum in the House are allowed to stand and retain their precedence on the Order Paperfor the next sitting when the Order is called for the House to resolve into a Committee of the Whole. [86]  At that time, the Committee resumes its work from the point of interruption.

Relevance and Disorder in a Committee of the Whole

Speeches in a Committee of the Whole must be strictly relevant to the item or clause under consideration. [87]  If a Member’s speech is not relevant to the debate, the Chairman is empowered to call the Member to order and if, necessary, warn that he or she risks being reported to the House. [88]  An exception which has developed to the rule of relevance is the wide-ranging debate permitted on Clause 1 (or Clause 2 if Clause 1 only contains the short title of a bill). [89]  Certain limits have nonetheless been established for consideration of Clause 1, including proscriptions against repetition of second reading debate and against anticipation of clause-by-clause debate. [90]  Moreover, debate must be confined to the contents of the bill. [91]  A further limitation arises when an amendment has been proposed to Clause 1: remarks must be restricted to the amendment until it has been disposed of. [92] 

The Chairman is empowered to maintain order in a Committee of the Whole and to decide all questions of order. [93]  However, if a Member persists in irrelevance or repetition, refuses to withdraw unparliamentary remarks or to resume his or her seat when so requested, or if the proceedings become disorderly and the Chairman is unable to restore decorum in the Committee, the Chairman may rise and report the incident to the Speaker without seeking leave of the Committee. [94]  The Speaker takes the Chair, receives the report of the Chairman, and deals with the matter as if the incident had happened in the House and may subsequently name the Member. [95]  In the case of unparliamentary language, the Speaker may request the Member to withdraw the remarks. After the matter has been dealt with, the Committee resumes its deliberations without a motion to this effect. In extreme cases of disorder in a Committee of the Whole, the Speaker has taken the Chair without waiting for the Chairman to report. [96] 

Questions of Privilege

Given that the House rarely sits as a Committee of the Whole and that when it does, the proceedings are typically completed in a matter of minutes, questions of privilege are not often raised today in a Committee of the Whole. The practice regarding the raising of questions of privilege in a Committee of the Whole is, nonetheless, identical to that for any standing, legislative or special committee. The Chairman has no authority to rule that a breach of privilege has occurred. [97]  The Chairman hears the question of privilege and may entertain a motion that certain events which occurred in the Committee should be reported to the House. [98]  If the Committee decides that the matter should be reported, then the Chairman rises, the Speaker resumes the Chair, and the Chairman reports the question of privilege. [99]  The Speaker then deals with the matter. If a prima faciecase of privilege is found by the Speaker, a Member may move a motion dealing with the matter. [100]

The Speaker will entertain a question of privilege in regard to a matter that occurred in a Committee of the Whole, only if the matter has been dealt with first in the Committee of the Whole and reported accordingly to the House. [101] 

When the House is in a Committee of the Whole, a Member may not rise on a question of privilege affecting the privileges of the House in general; however, a Member may move a motion for the Committee to rise and report progress in order that the Speaker may hear the question of privilege. [102] 


When proceedings in a Committee of the Whole are interrupted in order for the House to proceed with scheduled items of daily business (for example, at 2:00 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, and 11:00 a.m. on Friday, for Statements by Members and Question Period; or an interruption for a scheduled recorded division in the House) or if the Committee is unable to complete its business at the conclusion of the time allotted for Government Orders, [103]  the Chairman interrupts the proceedings and rises. The Speaker takes the Chair and the Committee reports progress to the House and requests leave to consider its business again later that day or at the next sitting of the House. The report is then received by the House and the Committee is granted leave to sit again later that day or at the next sitting of the House. [104]  After the interruption, the Committee may resume sitting if the Order is called. [105] 

If business arises which requires the attention of the House (for example, a Royal Assent ceremony), the Speaker takes the Chair immediately without waiting for the Committee to rise and report progress. [106]  When the matter which led to the interruption has been dealt with, the Committee resumes sitting. Messages received from the Senate will not interrupt the proceedings of the Committee; these messages are only reported to the House by the Speaker after the Committee has risen and reported and before another Order of the Day is taken up by the House. [107] 

Extension of Debate

Only when the Speaker is in the Chair, may a Member move a motion, without notice, to extend the sitting beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment to continue consideration of a particular item of business. [108]  When the House is in a Committee of the Whole, a Member must indicate his intention to move such a motion; the Chairman interrupts the proceedings and, without reporting progress, rises so that the motion can be properly moved and disposed of with the Speaker in the Chair. [109]  The motion cannot be debated or amended. [110]  It carries automatically unless at least 15 Members who object to it rise in their places when the Speaker puts the question, in which case the motion is deemed withdrawn. [111]  On occasion, the House has adopted special orders extending a sitting in order to complete consideration of a bill in a Committee of the Whole. [112] 


The Standing Orders provide the government with a procedural device to force a decision by the House on any motion or bill under debate. This device is known as closure. [113]  Although the limited use of Committees of the Whole in modern practice has substantially reduced the use of closure there, it may still be invoked. Once debate has begun in a Committee of the Whole, closure may be applied to a motion; to the whole committee stage of a bill; to its title, preamble or its clauses, individually or in groups; or to amendments or sub-amendments. Furthermore, closure may be moved on clauses of a bill which have not yet been called. [114] 

Before invoking closure of a matter being considered in a Committee of the Whole, a notice must be given orally at a previous sitting by a Minister. This notice is normally, but not necessarily, given while a Committee of the Whole is considering the matter to be closured. [115]  If notice is to be given at some other time, the consistent practice is then to wait for debate on that matter to have been initiated, either on a previous day or earlier on the same day. When oral notice has been properly given, a Minister may then move “that the further consideration of any resolution or resolutions, clause or clauses, section or sections, preamble or preambles, or title or titles, shall be the first business of the Committee, and shall not further be postponed”. [116]  Such a closure motion is moved before the Committee resumes consideration of the Order to which closure would apply.

Once moved, a closure motion is decided without debate or amendment. [117]  The question is put on the motion and a division may take place. If the motion is adopted, Members’ participation in the debate is restricted: they may speak only once on the question to which closure has been applied, and for no longer than 20 minutes. [118]  The sitting may be extended but debate concludes no later than 11:00 p.m. that same day, at which time the Chairman puts all the necessary questions to dispose of the matter. [119] 

After the consideration of a closured bill is completed, the Chairman reports the bill back to the House with or without amendment. A motion for concurrence in the bill at report stage is moved and put without debate. [120]  If the bill is concurred in at report stage and the sitting has not gone beyond the time normally provided for Government Orders, the House can then proceed immediately to the third reading stage of the bill. [121]  If the bill is concurred in at report stage and the sitting has been extended beyond the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, the bill is then ordered for third reading at the next sitting and the House adjourns. [122] 

Time Allocation

The Standing Orders provide a mechanism, referred to as time allocation, for restricting the length of debate on bills. [123]  Although there are certain elements of closure in time allocation, it allows the government to negotiate with the opposition parties to establish, in advance, a timetable for the consideration of a public bill at one or more legislative stages, including debate at the Committee of the Whole stage. Time allocation has been imposed rarely in a Committee of the Whole; this stems from the fact that bills which are referred to a Committee of the Whole are generally of a non-controversial nature and tend to generate little discussion, or deal with matters of political importance on which arrangements have been made on the use of House time. [124] 

Prohibition Against the “Previous Question”

The motion “That this question be now put” is referred to as the “previous question”. Its purpose, when moved and debated in the House, is to achieve one of two possible objectives: either to prevent any amendment to the main motion and force a direct vote on it, or to delay a vote on the main motion by prolonging debate. [125] 

The moving of the previous question is prohibited in a Committee of the Whole as it is in any committee. [126]  Given that a bill is referred to a Committee of the Whole for clause-by-clause consideration, the moving of the previous question would prevent Members from proposing amendments and considering the legislation to the fullest extent possible.

Adjournment of Debate

A Committee of the Whole has no power to adjourn its own sitting or to adjourn consideration of any matter to a future sitting. [127]  If its consideration of a matter is not concluded by the ordinary hour of daily adjournment, or if the House is scheduled to proceed with Private Members’ Business or the Adjournment Proceedings, the Chairman interrupts the proceedings and rises. The Speaker takes the Chair and the Committee reports progress to the House and requests leave to consider its business again at the next sitting. [128]  The Speaker asks, as a matter of form, “When shall the report be received? Now. When shall the Committee have leave to sit again? At the next sitting of the House. So ordered.”

During consideration of a bill or motion in a Committee of the Whole, a Member may move “That the Chairman rise and report progress”. [129]  A motion that “the Chairman report progress” has the same effect as a motion for the House to adjourn debate. [130]  In other words, if this motion is adopted, no further debate can occur on the matter under consideration that day. If this motion is rejected, the Committee continues sitting and the question cannot be put again until some intermediate proceeding has taken place. [131] 

After a Committee of the Whole has risen, reported progress and received leave to sit again at the next sitting of the House, when the Order is next called, the House goes into a Committee of the Whole and the Committee resumes its business. [132] 

Termination of Debate

The proceedings in a Committee of the Whole may be brought abruptly to a close if a Member moves a motion “That the Chairman leave the Chair” and the motion is adopted. Such a motion is always in order, is not debatable and, if adopted, supersedes the question then before the Committee. [133]  If the motion is put and agreed to, the Committee rises without a report to the House, and the matter before the Committee disappears from the Order Paper[134]  If the Committee rejects the motion for the Chairman to leave the Chair, the question cannot be put again without some intermediate proceeding having taken place. [135] 


When the Chairman puts the question on a bill, clause or motion, if one or more Members object, they may request that a division, or standing vote, take place; [136]  if no such request is made, the Chairman declares the bill, clause or motion carried/adopted or negatived, on division (that is, signalling opposition without calling for a standing vote). [137]  It is not necessary to have five Members rise to force a standing vote as is required in the House. [138]  In a Committee of the Whole, the names of Members voting for or against an item are not recorded and no bells are rung to call Members in to vote. [139]  Those Members present in the Chamber simply rise in rows and are counted by a Table Officer. Members do not have to be in their allocated places. As is the case with a vote in the House, no Member may enter the Chamber while a division is in progress in a Committee of the Whole, [140]  nor will the Chairman hear a point of order during a vote. [141]  Those in favour of the motion to the right of the Chair rise first and after each row has been counted, the Chair asks the Members in that row to sit. The same procedure is followed for those in favour to the left of the Chair. The procedure is repeated for those opposed to the motion. After the count, the Table Officer stands at the end of the Table and reports the number of “yeas” and “nays” to the Chairman. The Chairman declares the motion carried or negatived. [142]  Pairs are not declared when there is a vote in a Committee of the Whole because no record is kept of the names of Members who voted one way or the other. [143] 

The Chairman does not vote in a Committee of the Whole, but in the event of a tie, he or she has a casting vote and is governed by the same rules as the Speaker under similar conditions. [144]  The general principle guiding a Chairman of a Committee of the Whole is to vote in such a manner as to preserve the matter for further consideration (that is, in such a way as to maintain the status quo). [145] 

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